80s Hip Hop Fashion Guide

80s Hip Hop Fashion Guide

80’s hip hop fashion has long been synonymous with the music itself, thus making it part of a larger cultural movement that has continued on for decades. The style first sprung forth from the Bronx neighborhood in New York City back in the 1970s and saw numerous changes throughout the years.

The style first emerged as the “B-Boy” look, which took over the east coast in the 1980s. By the end of the decade, it became more than just a look, it was a movement, and a way for those wearing it to express themselves. The style was used as a way to celebrate African heritage and black nationalist movements.

This guide contains the key fashion elements you need to dress in an 80s hip hop style.

1. B-Boy Style

Kangol Bucket Hats

 

 
 
 
 
 
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B-Boy style was one of the original hip hop fashion looks, and was worn by rappers, DJ’s, break dancers, and graffiti artists. The look was made famous by hip hip artists such as Run DMC, Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, and The Fat Boys.

Kangol bucket hats were a main staple when it came to rocking this look. Made from wool, these hats are still popular today, with brands like Urban Outfitters copying the style.

 

Name Plate Necklaces

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Name plate necklaces in the 1980s symbolized one thing: status. Hip hop artists wanting to show off their wealth wore chunky gold accessories such as these, and when their careers started to take off, so too did their bank accounts.

 

Shell Toe Sneakers

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Adidas shell toe sneakers (as well as their track suits) were the epitome of “B-Boy” hip hop fashion in the 1980s. Hip hop artists like Run DMC wore the sneakers with their designer track suits (sometimes without the laces.)

These Adidas sneakers are still one of the most popular items to come out of the hip hop movement that are still worn today.

 

2. Black Pride Inspired Fashion

Paramilitary Fatigues

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Political hip hop music gained traction in the 1980s, with artists such as Public Enemy using their platform as a way of promoting their social agendas, and talking about the struggles they faced as black people living in the U.S. With this, came a new style: camo print, and military inspired style.
It was helpful that camo print could be found so easily at the time, especially for inexpensive prices, and at thrift stores. The look was never really seen on high end brands. Hip hop artists such as Tupac made camo print a big part of their wardrobe, and though it’s worn less frequently now, it’s still quite popular.

 

Pan-African Colors: Yellow, Red, Black and Green

 

 
 
 
 
 
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With the more socially conscious hip hop music that was coming out, the style also evolved. Along with camo print came bright colors like yellow, red, black, and green representing African heritage, and signaling black pride. Striped shirts, and bright jackets with loud patterns became part of the hip hop style in the 1980s.

The look even appeared on television, with Will Smith frequently sporting the look on Fresh Prince of Bel Air in the 90s. He sported loud, colorful shirts, windbreakers, and pants on many episodes.

 

3. Sportswear

Tracksuits

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The epitome of 1980s hip hop fashion was the tracksuit, and brands like Adidas and Le Coq Sportif took off with the trend. While they appear as little more than sportswear these days, in the 1980s, matching track suits were seen on some of the most famous hip hop crews like Run DMC.

 

Clarks Originals Wallabee Shoes

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Somehow, this strange shaped shoe became highly popular by the end of the 1980s and early 90s. The silhouette has not changed since they first debuted, and the shoe became highly popular within the hip hop music and fashion industry when the Wu-Tang Clan started wearing them, including in their music videos.

 

4. Accessories

Dookie Chains

With the desire to show off their wealth, hip hop artists began wearing massive amounts of gold jewelry, including dookie chains. The huge, braided gold chains were a status symbol, showing off the hip hop artist’s wealth and success.
Rappers like Tupac, Snoop Dogg, and Biggie were all known for their extravagant gold jewelry, especially their chains.

 

CAZAL 607 Glasses

 

 
 
 
 
 
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First created in 1979 by Carl Zalloni, an Austrian eyewear designer, CAZAL 607 glasses became hugely popular with the hip hop set when Run DMC’s Darryl McDaniels started sporting them.
CAZAL glasses are still worn by many famous artists today, including Beyonce and Jay Z.

 

About 80s Hip Hop Style

One of the most famous designers to come out of 1980’s hip hop fashion movement was Daniel Day, or “Dapper Dan” as he came to be called. The designer introduced high fashion to the world of hip hop with counterfeit designs from high-end labels like Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

Dapper Dan opened his boutique in 1982, but not before he started selling shoplifted items from his car back in 1974. Originally wanting to be a clothing wholesaler, the designer faced racism from various companies who refused to do business with him due to the color of his skin. So, turning lemons into lemonade, he taught himself how to create designs from scratch.

Copying designs from high fashion labels, he started designing for hip hop artists in 1985 when he first styled LL Cool J, and is considered the person who first introduced the hip hop world to luxury fashion.

Rachel Lifter, assistant professor of fashion studies at Parsons School of Design told Fashion Beans, “Dapper Dan has a term for what he did in the 1980s: ‘blackinize fashion.’ He drew on a long legacy of black style as both a form of self-realisation and a statement of political-aesthetic resistance.”

Dapper Dan’s Boutique was in operation from 1982-1992. In 2017, he launched a fashion line with Gucci and opened another store in 2018 called Dapper Dan’s of Harlem. He will long be remembered as the person who introduced high fashion to the hip hop world.

This later lead to the “ghetto fabulous” look that emerged at the end of the 80s and into the 90s; this was a look that suggested money and wealth. Rapper Jay Z claimed in a BlackBook Magazine interview that the style was, “living it on our terms, instead of trying to emulate an elite lifestyle.”

A 2002 Newsweek article talked about rappers expensive taste and love for luxury labels, writing, “This is the rich sound of hip-hop: cash registers ringing loudly for luxury brands. Though rappers have long found inspiration for lyrics in brand names like Adidas and Tanqueray, it’s the prestige logos that sparkle the brightest.”

In the documentary Fresh Dressed, Damon Dash, who started Roca Wear with Jay Z talked about poverty and the desire to look wealthy, something that can became a main part of the hip hop machine. He said, “if you go home and you got roaches and 10 people living in an apartment, the only way you can feel some kind of status is (with) what you have on your body.”

Sacha Jenkins, the producer and director of the 2015 documentary, echoed this sentiment when she told the Los Angeles Times, “Fashion has always been an important part of the hip-hop identity because fashion has always been an important part of black identity in America. Because when you don’t have much ownership over where you can land in society, your financial situation, your educational situation, the one thing you can control is the way you look.”

Hip hop fashion has transcended many decades since it became highly popular in the 1980s, and still inspires designers today. In Marc Jacobs 2017 fall fashion show for his women’s collection, models walked down the runway in clothing inspired by 1980s fashion. Track suits, thick gold chains, large fur jackets, and enormous hats were paraded around.

Jacobs claimed he was inspired by the 2016 Netflix documentary Hip Hop Evolution, saying in a statement, “This collection is my representation of the well-studied dressing up of casual sportswear. It is an acknowledgment and gesture of my respect for the polish and consideration applied to fashion from a generation that will forever be the foundation of youth culture street style.”

1980s hip hop fashion emerged as a massive cultural movement, taking on a life of its own throughout the decades since. The style continues to inspire designers and consumers alike, even today.

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